Mar 05, 2019

Report Finds Groundwater Contamination at Coal Ash Sites Across the US

The report found that 91% of coal-fired power plants found groundwater contamination

Report finds widespread groundwater contamination surrounding coal ash pits
Report finds widespread groundwater contamination surrounding coal ash pits

A new report, published jointly by the Environmental Integrity Project and Earthjustice, found that 91% of coal-fired power plants in the nation reported elevated levels of contaminants, including arsenic, lithium, chromium and more in surrounding groundwater. The analysis looked at public monitoring data for the 250 coal-fired power plants across the country.

According to The Washington Post, the groundwater pollution is widespread and spans the country. At one example, a family ranch south of San Antonio, Texas, more than a dozen pollutants have leached into groundwater from a nearby coal ash pond. In Maryland, groundwater at a landfill that contains ash from three coal plants was contaminated with eight pollutants and in Pennsylvania, arsenic levels in the groundwater near a former plant exceeded the U.S. EPA’s safe drinking water standards by several hundred times.

However, the report does acknowledge that the data alone does not prove that drinking water supplies near the coal-fired power plants have been contaminated. Power companies participate in routine testing of nearby drinking water wells. The contamination could potentially spread though, reported Reuters.  

According to the EPA, nearly 90 million people rely on groundwater for drinking water supplies as well as irrigation for agriculture. The report found that the majority of the country’s coal ash plants have unsafe levels of at least four potentially toxic substances. Few coal ash waste ponds have waterproof liners to protect groundwater resources from potential contamination leaching. Additionally, more than half of the nation’s coal ash waste ponds are built below the local water table or within 5 ft of it.

“With all of these, the contamination is really not in dispute. It’s the industry’s own numbers,” said Lisa Evans, senior attorney for Earthjustice. “The question now is, where is the contamination going? Who’s in the path of a plume? Is it people? A waterway?”